Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day 2013: It Doesn't Get Better

 Valentine's Day expectation:


Reality:
"What a hitter!"


I didn't have a lot of dates on Valentine's Day in high school. By "a lot" I mean any and by "on Valentine's Day" I mean ever. Boys did not like me. They did not like me so much that my mom and my best friend's mom had a running, numerical list going of "Reasons why boys don't like you". It was in the hundreds by the time I graduated and included such gems as "Because you ask boys if they want to hear the most annoying sound in the world, then make it", "Because you are 17 and still go Trick or Treating", "Because you actively lecture your peers about the hazards of drug and alcohol use", "Because you're too loud" and "Because all of your inside jokes are about The Glass Menagerie". (Admittedly, at least half of those are still true.) In fact the only Valentines I ever received from boys in school were in elementary school. And then only because you were actually obligated to give a Valentine to EVERYONE in the class or you got in trouble.

I went to every high school dance with my best girlfriend. I didn't really get why no one asked me, until I got to the dance. There, all the girls were making out with their dates (something I did not do), and knew how to do their hair and makeup and get tans (things I did not know how to do). It pretty much went like this:



Actually I had one date to one high school dance ever, and he was my mom's student to whom she offered extra credit to go with me. I don't think we actually danced once. If we did it I obviously blocked it from my memory in that it was undoubtedly like a scene from Napoleon Dynamite where he told me he liked my sleeves and we left plenty of room for Jesus and then I ran away.

The closest I ever got to a guy in high school was one time when I hugged one and my braces got caught in his sweater. That happened.

I was the Hermione Granger, frizzy haired, over-achiever, President of all the clubs, Editor of the paper who sat in the front row with my hand raised so high and so hard that I actually had to hold my arm up with my other hand. I was the "before" girl in every high school makeover movie.

And that's fine. That's all just fine and good. Because every high school makeover movie and Disney and my mom all worked in tandem to give me the straight girl's equivalent of the "It Gets Better" campaign for gay kids. They told me that just because no one "appreciates me" now, that wouldn't be the case forever. They told me that in fact, before I knew it, my Valentine's Day would go from opening one lone card from my mom and pretending N*Sync's Chris Kirkpatrick was my boyfriend (yeah, that's the one I picked...) to UNICORNS ON UNICORNS ON UNICORNS ON KITTENS ON BOYS WITH CANDIES AND FLOWERS AND GLITTER AND RAINBOWS AND EXCUSE ME I THINK I NEED TO GO SIT DOWN.

This was, you see, the natural progression of things. I was supposed to get hot. And boys weren't supposed to be "intimidated" of the smart girl any more. And I would have dates. And Valentines. And boyfriends. I would have all of the things.

I guess beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I'm definitely a vast improvement in the looks department over high school me. I never did grow boobs, but I lost the braces and became, if not hot, then at least passably bangable to a strong contingent of men with beer goggles at 3AM.

And yet I find myself still going to just about every single ball or gala with my best girlfriend from high school. (YOU SAID I'D HAVE DATES MOM. YOU LIED TO ME. I'D SLAM A DOOR RIGHT NOW IF I STILL LIVED AT HOME FOR YOU TO HEAR IT.) This Valentine's Day so far has consisted of girlfriends posting cat pictures on my Facebook wall, and tonight i'll probably be going full-on Marla Hooch "It had to be you" at some hapless, horrified stranger at a bar.

If facebook stalking gives any indication, it turns out that all the cheerleader girls who knew how to do their makeup in high school are still all the girls who are always "in a relationship" with someone or other new every few months, who unfailingly receive flowers (that they unfailingly post pictures of) from their love interest on Valentine's Day. And it turns out that all the girls who studied hard who never had dates are still by and large dateless and up all night on Valentine's Day writing or blogging (you know, hypothetically..).

I don't know what happened. Or I guess, what didn't happen. Still don't have all the dates. Or all the Valentines. Or all the boyfriends. I wasn't told that I'd need those things to be happy. But I was told that they'd come around.

So I think if I ever have a daughter, and she inevitably turns out to be the same type-A girl with braces who sits in the front row, who gets straight A's but doesn't get asked to any dances, I won't promise her "It gets better". I won't promise her that boys will like her. Because maybe they won't. But I can unequivocally promise her a life of adventure, which she wouldn't get to experience if she were the type of girl always tied down to a guy. And i'll promise that she'll find happiness. And i'll promise that she'll fulfillment. Just not in the way she might be hoping for in that moment, on that Valentine's Day where she is opening what will probably be her only Valentine's Day card... which is from me.

Oh and cats. I'll promise her cats. Or raccoons. Few things in life are certain except death and taxes and that if you live in a Grey Gardens-esque hoard, raccoons are inevitably going to intermingle with your cats, so you better damn well get used to it.

I can't say with confidence "It gets better". But your world certainly gets bigger. And you shouldn't lose sight of that on the one day of the year that asks you to look with tunnel vision at one aspect of your life.

And thanks for this year's Valentine's Day card, mom. And for the cardboard cutout Barbie charm bracelet that came with it.

Reason # 4,562 boys do not like me: Because I wear cardboard cutout Barbie charm bracelets.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Special Letter To My Mom for Mothers' Day


This is my favorite picture of me and my mom because i'm in a helmet and she's drinking and throwing a gang sign.

Mom,

So as you know Mothers' Day is right around the corner. I know it will be hard to top last year's gift of being only half an hour late to the family brunch or the time I gave you that painting of an old man I found in a dumpster my senior year of college.

That said, what do you want? I was thinking of something classic. Preferably something I can make with little-to-no effort but which you would be obligated to pretend to love. The top choices right now are:

-Macaroni necklace (I can paint it your choice of colors)

-Playdough porcupine with toothpicks in it. A playdough turtle is probably also within my skill set.

-A tracing of my hand, painted to look like a turkey

-A hat made out of a pot that I perhaps put some sequins on and maybe a feather so you can look particularly fetching on your special day

-A picture of me glued to a piece of paper to look like a frame, on which I draw various things like hearts and flowers. If you'd rather have a picture of my cat than me that is understandable, but I also reserve the right to act indignant and offended and then refuse to give you anything at all.

-A 'sit-upon'. This is something I learned in Girl Scouts in elementary school which is basically newspaper i'm going to wrap in some other newspaper and tie together with some string and then you can sit on it. It could be useful in like... a forest setting so, you know, think of that when you're weighing this option.

-Some rock i throw some glitter on

I contemplated buying you a Precious Moments figurine to commemorate this special occasion but they're all at least like $20 (and that isn't even for the fancy ones with all the extra rabbits and bluebirds and shit) and last I checked I don't have a trust fund to dip into for a serious investment such as that. Seriously, do I still not have one yet? I'm 27. God.... stop being poor.

Please note that any of these would of course be accompanied with a homemade crayon card and an interpretive dance celebrating the your motherly attributes in which I would portray Ceres, the ancient Roman Goddess of Motherhood and also simultaneously play her daughter, Proserpina. Picture a low-budget Swan Lake.

[Note: Interpretive dance may be hindered by my dancing skills, which I feel are too limited to express all I wish to convey about my feelings of motherhood, and also by the size of our living room, which I feel is too limited to contain my many erratic dance moves which require a great deal of space to perform.]

I think the best gift a daughter can give her mother is to make her proud, so, when envisioning these exquisite gems in front of you on Mothers' Day, let me remind you of that flip cup tournament I won in January. You're welcome.

Love, Sarah

Monday, February 13, 2012

One Girl's Valentine's Day



It hasn't happened yet, but here is a prediction of how my special little Valentine's Day will go.


7AM: Am awakened by blue birds, squirrels, and friendly raccoons, Disney Princess style, and spring from my bed, throw open the shutters to a bright, sunny day and burst into song about how today is my day for true love!

7:30AM: Realize I was dreaming and have turned off my alarm clock in my sleep. Am actually awakened by the desperate meowing of my dozens of cats... the survivors who haven't been crushed beneath my hoard.

7:40AM: Time to get ready for work and MUST. LOOK. AMAZING.

7:45AM: Amazing isn't happening. Settling for 'festive' since it isn't yet 8AM and ripping shots until I *feel* pretty isn't an option... after all, it's a Tuesday. Big hair? Check. Lipstick? Check. Perfume? Check. Maybe some bows? People wear bows right? That's a thing people do. Okay maybe bigger hair, brighter lipstick, more perfume, couple more bows, obviously a pink or red outfit preferably with puffy sleeves, pink nail polish, deely bobbers and two FISTS FULL OF VALENTINES FOR EVERYONE I SEE.

8AM: KICK open door and emerge from apartment on a Valentine's mission! I DON'T KNOW WHY, BUT TODAY SEEMS LIKE IT'S GONNA BE A GREAT DAAAYYYYYY.

8:15AM: Arrive at work still Valentine-less after passers by are startled by either A) my outfit, B) my thrusting Valentines in their faces, or C) growing concern over my urban raccoon infestation.

8:30AM: Sit grinning ear-to-ear at desk, hands folded neatly, in front of my chipper-looking homemade Valentine's mailbox! Any minute now!

8:35AM: Still no Valentines in my lovely box. Spruce said box up by using a red sharpie to draw a few more hearts on it.

8:40AM: Still no Valentines. Cue up some Mariah and Whitney love songs on my work computer and play them at an unreasonably loud volume so all my coworkers know I've arrived and that my Valentine's mailbox is open for business (you know, just in case they missed the outfit, the skipping, and the trail of glitter I sprinkled leading to my desk).

8:45AM: Turns out we aren't "doing that". Also my outfit isn't "work appropriate" and my Fruiti O's cereal box with a hole cut in the side, wrapped in tinfoil and colored with crayons isn't the grand masterpiece I envisioned. ...also something may have died in it and it's stinking up the office. Really gotta do something about that hoard. This is probably how Don Quixote felt about his cardboard helmet.

9AM: "Seriously we aren't doing that. You're 27. Stop putting that thing back on your desk every time I'm not looking and get to work."

9:30AM: Carefully update all social media applications (Twitter, Facebook, gchat status msg) with posts about politics or sports - anything other than Valentine's day - so as to look like I don't care, but subtly let everyone know I am checking my social media applications just in case they want to wish me a Happy Valentine's Day and / or ask me to be their Valentine. "What!? It's Valentine's Day? Psh I TOTALLY forgot and TOTALLY don't care. Let's talk about the Steelers you guys!!"

11AM: Resolve self to staring longingly out the window, sighing dramatically like a scene in a movie that would be accompanied by really sad music. If no one responds, sigh louder and at more frequent intervals.

11:03AM: Am now hyperventilating. Abandon window sighing plan.

12:15PM: Lunch of self-purchased Whitman's sampler. Open Valentine's card to self filled with words of encouragement. Resolve to greet rest of Valentine's Day with renewed enthusiasm!

1PM: Note that no boy has gchatted me, likely due to fear of the following:

guy: hey
me: LOVE ME

3PM: Ruin an email chain of single girlfriends discussing who is bringing what homemade dessert to the "Single Gals Vday Party!!" that night with horrifying response either involving un-ladylike bodily functions like crop dusting or involving hard drugs like meth and heroin authored with no obvious notes of irony so no one is quite sure if i'm joking.

5:15PM: Arrive home. Put on hoodie and sweats and house the absolute shit out of a combination of spaghettios, Easy Mac, and half a shaker of heart-shaped sprinkles for dinner, which I will describe in response text messages asking what i'm doing as "having a slow-motion, sexy pillow fight in my heels and lingerie and also my sprinklers went off so I'm all wet!"

6PM: Call my mom as preventative measure instead of raiding liquor cabinet and potentially calling a boy because "Wow. So 15 missed calls, a voicemail, and a text saying 'come downstairs'. And where is downstairs? Explain." isn't the line of questioning I want to wake up and deal with tomorrow.

8PM: Start going down list of Steelers' twitter accounts in alphabetical order, asking them to be my Valentine.

9:30PM: Write dark, brooding poetry.

9:50PM: Dramatic reading of said poetry outside on my lawn. Poetry reading to be followed by professing my love to a flower and performing an interpretive dance in the moonlight as my writing does not adequately convey all my feelings. I just have so many feelings.

1AM: Refusing to walk, drag self slowly and dramatically across floor through the narrow alleys between hoard piles to my bed, pausing every few feet to curse my parents for not loving me enough as a child (even though they did), just for dramatic effect. Climb into bed with my law degree, terrible towel, and the trophy I won in a middle school debate contest, and remind myself what a catch I am.

1:05AM: Remember I haven't yet checked my mailbox and run outside to check it where I discover a Valentine's Day card from my grandmother with $20 in it (turn this life around!) and am reminded that yes, Virginia, there is a Valentine.


Valentine's Day Blog 2011: My Fuzzy Valentine: http://onegirlsopinionogo.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-fuzzy-valentine.html

Valentine's Day Blog 2010: One Girl's Guide To Getting A Boyfriend: http://onegirlsopinionogo.blogspot.com/2010/02/one-girls-guide-to-getting-boyfriend.html

Monday, September 26, 2011

2012 Winter Classic keeps it classy

Hide yo kids, hide yo wife. Hide yo valuables, and for the love of God hide your jersey when walking through groups of rival fans. The NHL has just announced that the 2012 Winter Classic will feature the Philadelphia Flyers vs New York Rangers and will be hosted at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Wow. If the plan was to round up the trashiest fans the NHL has to offer and try and set some sort of record for most people beaten to death in a parking lot, then well done.

The Rangers are expected arrive in Philadelphia at staggered times over the Christmas holidays, each player in a separate, nondescript car, to the luxurious Motel 8.

Instead of the National Anthem, the game will commence following a rousing rendition of either "Smack My Bitch Up" or the unedited version of "Forget You", as determined by popular fan vote. Fan vote will be determined by whichever artist, Prodigy or Cee Lo, isn't bludgeoned to death getting off their tour bus.

Fans are encouraged to wear helmets to the game to show their support for their favorite team, and also to avoid a similar fate.

Intermission will feature a shot put-style battery throwing contest where fans try to get the most distance on a Bud Light-fueled Duracell toss where the winner will receive a bullet proof vest so he or she can survive the inevitable shanking-in-the-bathroom sure to follow as a result of being seen on the JumboTron.

Following the game, the losing team will be set up as decoys and awarded medals of participation, which, if the players are wise they will use to try and reflect the light into the eyes of the fans pelting them with beer bottles to temporarily blind them, while the winning team will be allowed to immediately flee to their armored buses through the nearest fire exit.

Should fans set fire to the arena, officials plan to seal all exits, trapping the fans inside like the British army pulled on the colonists during the revolutionary war as depicted in Mel Gibson's movie, The Patriot. If officials are forced to resort to what has been dubbed "Plan A", a college scholarship fund will be set up for the children of local strip club employees, whose business is expected to be irreparably damaged by such a "tragedy".

And then the children will salt the land, so nothing will ever grow there again.


I think this Rangers fan is voting for the Cee Lo song.


Know how I know this Flyers' fan's father is one proud dad? Hint: it isn't because she is literally wearing only a bra and short shorts to a sporting event and has an arrow painted on her body pointing to her unmentionables.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The GOP's Breakfast Club

"At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in the room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul." ~Billy Madison


As I wrote this, the Boston Bruins were up 5-1 over the Vancouver Canucks and went on to tie the Stanley Cup Championship series 3-3. America may have lost in the GOP Presidential debate Monday, but at least it's winning at hockey.

While America was the loser, it was hard for me to pick a clear winner in the debate, but I'm going with Herman Cain and Mitt Romney. Rather than blogging a play-by-play analysis of the cacophony of "pro-life" this and "cut corporate taxes" that which was the first large-scale GOP debate in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, I just want to highlight some standout moments. Here they are, chronologically.

I'll start with the candidate with whom I'm best acquainted, former PA Senator Rick Santorum. I've met and worked with Santorum politically in the past. I think Washington Post's Jonathan Bernstein put it best when he said Santorum's "only plausible role in these proceedings is to be as shrill and abrasive on the various social issues as possible." (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/on-with-the-show-the-gop-kicks-off-2012/2011/05/06/AFHGBQ8F_blog.html)

Santorum certainly played his roll well tonight. The debate started at 8PM and when I flipped to CNN at 8:07, the first statement I heard out of anyone's mouth was Santorum dropping the importance of his pro-life agenda in response to a question about the economy. Way to stay on point.

Michele Bachmann was up next and she didn't bother answering the question at all. Instead, she took the moment to announce that she officially filed the papers to run for President. I wanted to be offended at her lack of respect toward addressing the issues affecting the American people, but honestly, it's best she doesn't talk.

Then there was Tim Pawlenty. Who?? Exactly. Unless you're a political insider or citizen of Minnesota, you probably have no clue who Pawlenty is, nor would you after having seen his lackluster performance in the debate.

"T-Paw" missed a crucial opportunity to really define and establish himself as a candidate when he chose to tuck tail rather than take current GOP frontrunner, former Gov Mitt Romney, to task about Romney's advocacy of universal healthcare in Massachusetts. On Fox Sunday, Pawlenty knocked what he called "Obamneycare"; a hybrid of "Obamacare" and "Romney". People don't know who Pawlenty is, and if he wants to make a name for himself he needs to make, and stand behind, his bold statements, or he is going to be swallowed by the more recognizable names in the field.

Back to Bachmann, who unfortunately decided she was now going to answer some questions, she asserted that the Tea Party is made up of "disaffected Democrats", and paused for emphasis, before adding on a litany of political party types who make up, what I can only assume, is the other 99.99% of the Tea Party.

She then graced the American people with her economic panacea. Her big job creation plan? "Kill the EPA", or, as she so cleverly named it, the "Job Killing Organization." But then this got me thinking that, while she may not make a very good President, or even a passable Hill intern, she'd be a great pirate. Just think about all the pirate-y names: Blackbeard. Treasure Cove. Dead Man's Bay. Those are all both scary AND seemingly self-explanatory, eliminating that whole need for an A to B logical thought process like in high school when your math teacher would ask you to "show your work" solving a problem. Why? Sounds scary, therefore is scary. No explanation needed. Shipwreck Island. Boom.

Back to Santorum, this time trying to fake a blue-collar empathy to appear more sympathetic on the issue of jobs. "I represented the Steel Valley of Pittsburgh when I was in Congress.” ...Okay no, no you didn't. You didn't even live in Pennsylvania when you were our Senator. You and your wife and 19 kids and counting picked up and moved to Virginia where you home schooled your children with help from cyber schools while the good people of Pittsburgh footed the bill. (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06146/693291-192.stm)

Not only did Santorum not represent the interests of his Pennsylvania constituents, which is why we voted him out of office, he couldn't even pretend to care enough about the state to live or keep his family there. His audacity in still standing up there, years after this issue, and insisting he's was a Pittsburgh boy while he was in Congress was a slap in the face to the people of Pennsylvania. Elephants never forget. And neither do donkeys. And Pennsylvania will not look kindly on Santorum come voting day.

The candidates were also asked a completely random selection of pop-culture "this or that" questions periodically before cutting to commercial breaks. Ron Paul picked Blackberry over iPhone... Hands down best answer to any question I heard all night. Though to be fair, I'm sure it is at least in part due to the fact that Paul has no clue how to use an iPhone., and it is entirely possible he thought he was choosing a fruit over one of those new-fangled contraptions the kids use nowadays.

When addressing protecting medicare and social security for retirees, Pawlenty said, "We want to keep our word to ppl we made promises to." What, except union workers expecting their pensions?

At some point, the proceedings devolved into a debate of who could oppress gay people more.

Santorum, on the issue of prayer and faith: "All of our ideas are allowed in and tolerated."
Santorum, on abortion: "All life" should have "respect" and "dignity".

His comments are of course in stark contrast to the point of absurdity as he juxtapositioned them with statements that gay marriage should be constitutionally banned and that gays should be banned from the military through the reinstatement of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Sadly, every single member of the GOP field agreed with him on the issue of a constitutional ban on gay marriage (even Newt Gingrich, who I can only assume is, however, okay with marriage between one man and three women in rapid succession) and in the reinstatement of DADT, which of course framed as gays as likely to exhibit "military misconduct" which should be frowned upon... every single member of the field except for one...

Enter Herman Cain.

Herman Cain was the only member of the GOP who seemed to express any true tolerance toward the gay community at all, saying the issue of gay marriage should be left up to the states rather than be banned through a constitutional amendment, and that he would not pursue the reinstatement of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Herman Cain dug himself into a hole, however, bungling a chance to retract earlier statements he made about refusing to appoint a Muslim to his cabinet.

It is, one would think, truly hard to top such a seemingly offensive remark. Never fear, Newt is here.

Gingrich came to Cain's rescue by out-bigoting him, essentially endorsing McCarthyism... yes, that happened. #goodoldfashionedwitchhunt

As far as the depth of foreign policy experience possessed by this esteemed panel, my favorite comment was by Pawlenty who called Iraq, a "shining example of success in the middle east." ...if Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, it should be immediately apparent that Pawlenty cannot see Iraq from his.

So, at the end of the day, we've got God's crusader, that dumb tea party one with the crazy eyes (no, not the one who thinks masturbation is a sin, the other one), that guy who says anything he says is inaccurate, the Mormon yankee boy who brought his state universal healthcare who now TOTALLY opposes universal healthcare, the crazy old man, what's-his-name, and the pizza shop owner guy / token minority.

With a field like that, it's no wonder we got a debate like this. Bang up job, candidates.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Everything I know about the NBA in 150 words; written by a bandwagon fan

Is this still relevant? Because if not I can do this in under 100 words.


I liked Michael Jordan and have his #23 Chicago Bulls jersey from when I was a kid.

I had a Toronto Raptor's Starter Jacket as a kid... I don't for the life of me know why.

I hate Kobe Bryant and Lebron James because Kobe doesn't know the meaning of "no means no" and Lebron = Judas.

I like Shaq because of Shaq Versus.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards suck.

I like John Wall’s dance and I know he played for Kentucky because, as a WVU fan, I hated him. We're cool now.

I know the name Dwyane Wade thanks to Jay Z’s song, Empire State of Mind. The playoffs have taught me he is a guard for the Miami Heat.

Former Pitt Panthers' player, Sam Young, plays for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Kobe Bryant plays for the Lakers.

I can correctly pair almost all the NBA teams with their appropriate cities.


That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. 150 words. I can’t tell you one single other thing about the NBA.

Don’t get me wrong, I know a ton about basketball and I’m a rabid college hoops fan, but after college I completely lose interest as players either get drafted into the NBA or fade into obscurity.

With these things in mind, I’m jumping on board the NBA playoffs bandwagon for the first time in my life. Last year, I watched the final NBA Championship game and that’s it. This year, I’ve watched a handful of games already including last night’s OT victory of the Heat over the Celtics and the triple OT victory of the Thunder over the Grizzlies. I just can’t bring myself to not watch a close sports game.

Two years ago, I decided I should adopt an NBA team for the novelty of it. Since I live in Washington, DC, I decided to go with the Washington Wizards. I’ve only been to 2 NBA games in my life: Wizards vs Detroit Pistons and Wizards vs Milwaukee Bucks. And I mean, I met the Wizards’ mascot, the G-man, and he’s pretty cool... so they've got that going for them... which is nice.

I figure I can lump them in with my Pittsburgh Pirates in the “bless their heart” category of teams. Also, this way, if the Wizards get good one day, no one can accuse me of just bandwagoning with the good team. Oh no... No, I’ll bandwagon with one of the worst and ninja my way in as a fan while no one is looking.

But, since the Wizards aren't in the playoffs and I’m trying to get into the NBA action, I’ve also decided to bandwagon temporarily with the Celtics and Grizzlies as my “backup” teams to the Wizards. I went to Boston University, so I figure that gives me enough credit to qualify as a half-assed Celtics fan. I’m a huge Pitt Panthers’ fan and their former player, Sam Young, plays for the Grizzlies. In the same vein I cheer for Ohio State solely because and while Terrelle Pryor (from my hometown of Jeannette) plays for them, I will cheer for the Grizzlies because of Sam Young. If both those teams get knocked out, I'll be cheering for Team-Anyone-But-Miami-Heat.

Now, behold, as I make a concerted effort to join the ranks of NBA fans. I’ve clearly got a way to go. Go Celtics and Go Grizzlies!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My "lazy, greedy, union-employee" parents

Seen to my left and right; the face of union workers in America. This isn't photo-shopped.


If you've ever met me, you know I love talking politics. If you've ever talked politics with me, you know the one subject about which I will entertain absolutely no debate is labor unions. While I have many reasons for my stance, I'd like to elaborate on just two of these.

My mom:

I'll start with my mom. My mom is a member of the most vilified of all unions; the teacher's union. Specifically, she belongs to the Pennsylvania State Educator's Association (PSEA).

My mom has been teaching for 30 years; since she was fresh out of college at 22. Officially, she works 9 1/2 months a year, from 7:20AM until 2:40PM. In reality, my mom stays at school until at least 8PM one to two nights a week with her journalism students putting out a nationally award winning yearbook and newspaper. When she was hired, the yearbook and newspaper didn't win any awards.

She never leaves school ever before 4PM. She stays after to do some grading, prepare her lesson plans, or talk to students who come to speak with her. Her "summer break" starts in mid-to-late June due to the many snow days caused by the Pittsburgh-area winters. She starts spending all her days back at the high school again by mid-August, when she comes in to get her classroom ready for school to start, and to receive the yearbooks from the publication company and get them in order to distribute to students on the first day of school.

July is her only real time off. In July, she spends one week every summer with her students at a yearbook and journalism conference so she and the students can learn new skills to help improve the publications and build closer bonds among the publication staff. When my mom has a student who can't afford to go, but wants to, she pays for their trip herself out of pocket.

She takes her students on a trip to New York City every year in March to attend a national journalism conference at Columbia University. The students who can't afford the trip sell candy bars as a fundraiser to pay for their trip. When my mom has a student who can't afford to go even after fundraising, she pays for the remainder of their trip herself. One year, with a particularly promising but poor journalism student, after a chaperone backed out last minute and couldn't go, my mom gave the opened spot to the student.

When one of my mom's students recently became homeless, she came and asked my mom if she knew anyone who wanted two cats, because she could no longer keep her beloved pets. With two rescue cats and a rescue dog of her own, my mom couldn't take them in herself. After asking and emailing around unsuccessfully at the high school, my mom paid $200 to have her cats neutered and fostered so they could find forever homes. They had to be neutered in order to be fostered.

My mom has several students every year who can't even afford lunches, but who for whatever reason, are not yet part of the school lunch program. My mom buys them food at the grocery store when she goes shopping for our family, and every night when she makes her lunch she packs healthy lunches for her students who can't afford one. She finds a subtle way to get it to the student after the other students have left the classroom for the next period, so they won't be embarrassed by having the other kids see.

Students come to my mom for advice when they're pregnant, when they have problems at home, problems in a relationship or with a friend, or for advice on where to go for college or which elective classes to take. In her spare time, my mom writes letters of recommendation and grades an endless stack of papers. My mom easily spends 12 hours every week outside of work grading papers. She makes and updates her lesson plans. She goes to the store to purchase supplies for her class room, because the limited budget she has through the school for these expenses doesn't provide enough for her to get all the things she needs to give her students the best education she feels they deserve. When invited, she attends students' graduation parties and the weddings and baby showers of former students. She goes to the musicals and plays at night in the spring when her students are in them.

Years after her students graduate, or on graduation day, they come and see my mom or write letters that have made her cry, thanking her for all she did for them. They tell her how much she has changed their life for the better.

My mom loves her job. She doesn't want to retire early, and often jokes about how she'll be teaching until she's so old, students just stop listening to her. Her only remaining goal for herself in life is to be able to travel the world. She was born in France. Since then, she has never left the US but for twice to the Virgin Islands. It's too expensive and our family can't afford it.

My dad:

My father, on the other hand, has never gotten a thank you note for his work. He is in construction and has been since he was 18 years old when he worked in the summers to pay to put himself through college. My dad is a union member of Laborers' Local 1058.

Working construction means you work long hours in every condition. When the roads are so bad no one else can get to or from work, my dad has to be on the job site. He has worked in the freezing cold winters in Buffalo and Pittsburgh in sub-zero temperatures, where massive heaters have to be turned on at the site so they can do pours and the concrete doesn't freeze before they can lay it properly. He is currently working in New Orleans where temperatures are in the 90s all summer and the humidity through the roof. He of course works outside in all these conditions.

He works in all these places and many others, far from his family and home, because that is the nature of the construction industry. You follow the projects the company for which you work does. I remember the first time my father was sent out of town. I was 4-years-old and my dad sat down with my little brother and me on my grandmother's couch and told us. He didn't want to go, but he had to. That was the first, and one of the only, times I ever remember seeing my father cry. He still drove home every single weekend to be with his family.

He works from 5AM until 6PM virtually every single day. He works 7 days a week nearly every week. He has off Christmas, but not Christmas eve or the day after. When the company does major pours, my dad will get home from his regular work day around 7PM, and needs to be back into work at 2AM for a pour that will go until midnight the next night. He still has to be at work the very next day at 5AM again.

He comes home from work covered head-to-toe in mud and cement.

A few days before my dad married my mom, he fell off the Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh. He fell into one of the giant 150 ft-or-so concrete pillars. Fortunately, he was wearing a safety harness that was secured to the bridge. Labor unions, who lobbied for improved worker safety devices on job sites, were responsible for saving my father's life. A few years before, on the same job site, an iron worker fell off the bridge at another spot and was paralyzed.

On a different job site where my father worked, the boom of a crane collapsed and crushed the oiler inside the cab to death. While building one of the tunnels to the Pittsburgh airport, one of my father's coworkers was in a work accident that decapitated him. While building the Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown in Washington DC, my dad, one of the first on the job site every day, found the destroyed body of a woman. She had thrown herself off the partially-finished freeway to commit suicide, and landed in front of their construction trailer. That was how my father started that work day, and he worked the full day afterward.

My dad was one of the first on the scene in October, 2001, when a speeding tractor-trailer veered onto a road-side job site and killed five of the construction workers who work with him. He was the superintendent of that site, and they were one of his crews. They were sitting and eating their lunches when it happened. He came home that day, in shock, and told our family about how he came upon their lunch boxes with their half-eaten lunches. He didn't need to elaborate on the rest of the gruesome details of that scene. If he had gotten back to that area of the job a few minutes earlier, that could have been him. [ http://www.wtae.com/r/1010736/detail.html ]

My father's coworkers who have died were also, of course, union employees. Thanks to labor union lobbying as a result of this and similar accidents, state police are now present on most road-side construction projects in Pennsylvania to be sure traffic actually obeys the construction signs.

My dad was shot with a paintball gun in Lancaster, PA by some kids driving by a job site.

He works constantly around jack hammers and incredibly loud machines and will undoubtedly one day suffer hearing problems. My grandfather, who was in construction for his entire life, has to hear through a hearing aid, and even then very poorly. My dad already has serious back problems as a result of the heavy lifting required of him. These will no doubt only get worse with age.

My father is in New Orleans now working to build new and vastly improved flood walls to protect the city so another Katrina will never happen.

Most people in the US have never seen a dead body outside a funeral home, or been shot. Most people's lives aren't at risk every single day at their job site. The giant construction signs reading "Slow Down, My Daddy Works Here" in a child's handwriting have special meaning to me. My father has seen as many of his friends and coworkers die as any Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, but he isn't treated like a hero. Instead, when we do things like take a bus tour of the city in Boston, he gets to hear the tour guide on the loud speaker crack jokes about construction workers "not exactly being qualified for Mensa" as we ride past them.

These are just two examples of union workers. This is what your tax dollars pay for. My parents are the "Everyman" union worker to me. So the next time you hear a talking point about "lazy, greedy" union employees, you can feel free to think, like I do, of my parents, and see if those words still ring true to you, or if you find yourself searching for some new adjectives.